I was once chatting with a friend who wanted to start learning German. He looked at me and told me:
“Manuel, you really said German is not that difficult? To be honest, just listening to Germans makes me think that it's not only difficult, but actually painful. I mean, what is with this weird grammar, this declension, and these strange things called accusative and dative? Or what about those really long words? Are they really a single word or a full sentence? It's actually hard for me to find vowels to pronounce such words.”
I started to laugh too, because I could totally understand him.
Whenever we start something new, it's always difficult at the beginning.
You remember, for example, the first time you learned to drive a car? A steering wheel, three pedals, and a gear. One of the pedals is the clutch. You have to use it at the same time that you use the gears. First, you need to press the pedal to change gears and then release it slowly while at the same time pushing the gas pedal. And of course, you must do all of this with your hands on the steering wheel, while paying attention to the road and not hitting any other cars.
This first barrier seemed really difficult to overcome. But once you mastered this first obstacle, you were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, right?
With every new language you learn, it's the same. Once you're able to break this first barrier, things do not seem that hard anymore, and you're more motivated to move forward and progress. In language learning, this first barrier is often times being able to start speaking the language and confidently holding your first conversations. Because that's what language is about: communication.
But you know what? You can start speaking TODAY if you want. I'll show you how in these six simple steps.
Step 1: Where to start with German
I remember going to Turkish Kebab restaurants very often to order fast food back when I was living in Germany. Once the waiter saw me, he would always ask me in Turkish what I wanted to order. I always had to explain to them that I'm not Turkish, but Spanish. These were the moments when I realized that I looked more Turkish than Spanish.
I had a lot of Turkish friends since the Turkish community is the biggest foreign one in Germany and I grew up with them. I listened to a lot of Turkish and I could understand some things. One day, I imagined how fun it would be if I actually answered the waiter in Turkish the next time. So I asked my Turkish friend to tell me how I could say, "I'm not Turkish, I'm Spanish, but I can speak German." I still know this exact line today because I said it so many times living in Germany (kebabs taste really good and they are everywhere there).
So, the next time I ordered a kebab, I was prepared and I knew nothing could go wrong because my script was configured in a way that I could absorb whatever the waiter would say in Turkish and redirect the conversation immediately to German.
But, I was totally unprepared for the answer that I actually received.
So the waiter asked me once again what I wanted in Turkish. I was really nervous the first time, even though I was prepared. I answered with my Turkish words. But what happened next? The guy started to smile and then continued to speak in Turkish.
He could not believe that I was telling the truth. When learning my line, I repeated it so many times that I actually pronounced it very well, and the person thought that I was just kidding and was really a Turkish guy. This moment was so amazing for me that I learned even more Turkish to have small talks with my friends.
Having that first conversation can be as simple as using one phrase.
But let's be a little bit more sophisticated when starting with German. How about configuring a simple but highly effective script? Let's take the phrases you will say most often in a conversation. And let's also take advantage of these phrases to learn and practice pronunciation.
In the next five steps, I'll show you how to start speaking German the following way:
- First, I'll introduce the concept.
- Then, I'll give you a video for each lesson.
Step 2: Let's start learning German NOW
To learn a new language, you will basically need to learn new words (vocabulary), learn the structures for arranging the words (grammar), and practice everything. We will start learning some basic ways to get to know each other. For that, we will cover new vocabulary and structures to build sentences.
It can be difficult to learn new words, especially at the beginning. They all sound very strange and seem hard to remember. Instead of drilling vocabulary, we will use a very sophisticated method that is much more aligned with the way our memory and learning process works best. The method is called Linkword.
This is how it works:
If I tell you, for example, a new word in German- let's say the verb arbeiten (to work)- your brain can't really connect to this word because it's not in its database. The word is strange to your brain. Now, the best way to connect to the new word is not by drilling, but it's by using a trick: we use another word that we already know that sounds very similar.
Let’s use the verb arbeiten as an example: “are biting.” “Are biting” sounds very similar and it's in our database. Now we connect it to the meaning of the new German word. Arbeiten means “to work” in English. So the connection could be a sample sentence such as:
- I hate working because the managers are biting me in my behind.
You see the connection between the real meaning of “working” and the linkword “are biting” that sounds very similar to the German word?
This method works REALLY well. The important thing here is to visualize this sample and the scene you create. Pictures are stored much better than simple words or numbers.
In this first lesson, I will provide you all the linkwords and sample sentences. But it's up to you, after I introduce the linkword and a sample, to push the pause button and take a few seconds to visualize your scene as vividly as possible. You can change the sample I propose or add funny nuances. Make it funny and meaningful to you, and your brain will reward you by storing it immediately.
Here's a link to our first video lesson.
Step 3: What if they talk and it sounds like Greek? No problem, this simple phrase will help you out
It's always possible to get lost in a conversation, and it's good to have a plan. Especially at the beginning stages, you will often find yourself in a situation where you don't understand something or you can't really follow the other person. This is especially true when you speak to natives. He/she might be speaking in German, but it can sound like Greek to you :-)
This is a good moment to transition to English. We will learn a funny way to do this in this next lesson.
Here's the link to your second video lesson.
Step 4: Well, what about saying hello and good bye?
Of course, to start a conversation you need to know how to express greetings. And at the end of the conversation, you need to know how to say goodbye.
In this third lesson, we will cover some basic ways of saying hello and goodbye.
Here is the link to our third video lesson.
Step 5: How can I learn to pronounce everything the right way?
Now, let's take an important step forward. We're going to use the things we covered in our lessons before practicing pronunciation.
What is the best way to do it?
The first time I listened to Michael Jackson's song Smooth Criminal, I was really convinced that he was singing the line, "Annie are you walking, are walking..." But once I read the lyrics and listened again, I realized that he really was singing, "Annie are you OK." Now, I've sung it so many times that I can even imitate him hee, hee :-)
So, in the same way you sing your favorite song over and over again, it is the best way to pick up nuances when you learn to speak a new language.
Based on the last three lessons, we will prepare our first German script and at the same time use it to practice pronunciation. I will guide you in this lesson through all the important nuances of the German pronunciation. I encourage you to go through the lesson as often as you need. While watching, try to repeat and SPEAK OUT LOUD. Practice the German script and the pronunciation this way.
Here is the link to your fourth video lesson.
STEP 6: YES, now it's your turn!
We have learned a very useful script. We practiced pronunciation and went through our script.
So YES, you are more than ready. You can go through the script again if you want and review some things.
I encourage you to reach out to a friend you feel confident with or your language partner on italki to have this first conversation.
Remember, our goal is not to speak perfectly and not to avoid mistakes, but just to have an enjoyable moment. I know you'll feel nervous, but after you get it, you'll feel unbelievable.
Here are some audio recordings of some of my students going through their first German script.
So, let's do this!
Now that you have accomplished your first milestone, keep your momentum and move on with your German journey.
Find incredible German tutors on italki that can guide you through the language so you can become fluent and confident with the language.
Did you enjoy the post and the video lessons?
Get access here to all the videos and additional PDF sheets so you can review in detail each lesson, vocabulary, and your first German script.
What is your next goal with German? Let me know in the comments below!
Manuel also writes a blog helping engineers learn to speak better German. You can find him here at www.herrprofessor.com.